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The Hill Times, February 8, 2010

Afghanistan veterans on disability now 6,000

Forces, Veterans Affairs reluctant to disclose casualty records after eight years of war

By Tim Naumetz

More than 6,000 Canadian Forces members and discharged veterans who are receiving physical or psychiatric disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada have either served in Afghanistan or have a disability that has been related to their service in Afghanistan, the department says.

The majority of the soldiers receiving benefits are likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or war-related psychiatric conditions, according to global figures the department and the Canadian Forces provided The Hill Times. They also do not appear to be included in Afghanistan combat or non-combat casualty figures the Canadian Forces compiled, even though the veterans and serving members who have psychiatric conditions likely have them as a result of serving in the Afghan war.

But the Veterans Affairs Department, in a series of email exchanges, told The Hill Times roughly 2,200 Canadian Forces "clients" are now receiving disability benefits related to their service in Afghanistan. The department said a further 4,100 veteran clients have Afghanistan service identified in their records "but their benefits are not necessarily related to the Afghanistan mission."
The Hill Times, Feb. 8, 2010

The Canadian Forces said a week ago 529 soldiers were wounded in action from 2002—when Canada first sent troops to Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led invasion following terrorist attacks in the United States—to last Dec. 31. The Forces said a further 913 troops had suffered "non-combat" injuries.

But the Veterans Affairs Department, in a series of email exchanges, told The Hill Times roughly 2,200 Canadian Forces "clients" are now receiving disability benefits related to their service in Afghanistan. The department said a further 4,100 veteran clients have Afghanistan service identified in their records "but their benefits are not necessarily related to the Afghanistan mission."

During a series of interviews with media relations officers from the Canadian Forces, The Hill Times learned the Canadian Forces does not disclose the nature and severity of wounds suffered during combat in Afghanistan or the nature of non-combat injuries. The veterans affairs department, for its part, said it could not link the number of specific disabilities, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, other psychiatric conditions or even limb amputations, with service in the Afghanistan war.

MPs have criticized the government for being too secretive with casualty information as Canadians weigh the government's stated goals of the war, where 139 Canadian soldiers have been killed since 2002, against the cost of military and civilian lives and injuries and the social and economic price that will continue to be paid for ears.

"We do not record it according to the campaign," Janice Summerby, communications director at Veterans Affairs Canada, said. "You cannot link the data to Afghanistan."

However, information Ms. Summerby provided in response to questions centered on psychological and psychiatric disabilities shows that the number of post-traumatic stress disorder injuries since 2001 has mushroomed.

In 2001, Veterans Affairs Canada had 389 clients, including veterans from previous wars, peacekeeping missions and RCMP veterans, who were receiving disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. That number climbed to 8,196 by the end of September last year, according to the information provided by Ms. Summerby.

Overall, the total number of veterans and Canadian Forces or RCMP members and Mountie veterans receiving disability benefits for a range of psychiatric conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, climbed to 12,063 last September from 2,137 in 2002.

A total of 5,375 Canadian Forces veterans were receiving disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder as of last September, Ms. Summerby said. She said the department could not say how many of those veterans began receiving the benefits after service in Afghanistan. Roughly 25, 000 Canadian Forces personnel have been deployed to Afghanistan at least once each since 2002.

Of the department's clients, 160 are now receiving amputee category benefits, Ms. Summerby said. She did not respond to a request to specify how many of those soldiers had amputations because of wounds and injuries sustained in Afghanistan.

Even though the department recognized post-traumatic stress disorder as a medical condition in 1994, Ms. Summerby said the growth in disability awards for the condition grew so sharply between 2002 and last year in part because veterans from conflicts as far back as the Second World War either began displaying symptoms well after the events that caused the disorder or became aware they could qualify for disability benefits as the disorder became more widely known.

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant (Don Valley West, Ont.), the Liberal veterans affairs critic, was surprised at the growth in numbers of soldiers who are suffering from psychiatric conditions and diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorders.

"We don't get detailed information on any of those issues, whether it's the exact nature of non-combat injuries, the exact number of people suffering operational stress injury or post-traumatic stress disorder," said Mr. Oliphant. "There has been a focus on mortalities, we get that number, but we don't even get the number of suicides, which is in addition to the number of combat fatalities."

Mr. Oliphant said part of the psychological and personal problems Canadian troops experience upon returning to Canada may be linked to the Canadian public's indifference toward the war or outright opposition to it. He said U.S. soldiers receive more moral and public support than Canadian troops returning home.

"Soldiers who return home to Canada often return home to an ambivalent public," Mr. Oliphant said. "If they go back to a small town in the United States, there's a parade."

Category: US-NATO, HR Violations - Views: 7692